Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Wasp Woman (Cinematic Titanic)

Film Year:  1959
Genre:  Horror
Director:  Roger Corman
Starring:  Susan Cabot, Anthony Eisley, Michael Mark, Barboura Morris
CT Number:  3

The Movie

It's almost as if Roger Corman saw The Wolf Man and The Fly the same weekend and shouted "I got an idea!"

The Wasp Woman tells the story of a woman with a career, and since that is inherently evil she has to become the villain by the end of the picture.  Susan Cabot plays Janice Starling, the founder of a major cosmetic company.  But as she gets older and her beauty fades she risks losing being the face of her products to the younger generation.  A mad beekeeper offers a solution by injecting her with the royal jelly of a wasp, which returns her to her youthful looks.  But side effects include turning into a wasp monster that kills people (surgeon general warning pending).

In The Wasp Woman Corman mimics classic horror tales while blending with science fiction elements that were popular at the time.  The result is something middling to passable for Corman though poor by traditional standards.  The storyline is fair, though presentation is dry, presenting tongue-in-cheek ideas in a fairly serious manner.

The Wasp Woman at it's heart is just an unimpressive monster movie at a point where the genre was dying out.  It's not really all that fun nor does it do anything interesting or new.  As far as cheap drive-in fare that eventually went public domain goes, it's fine.  Hardly anything to note though.

The Riff

The Wasp Woman was fairly close to being a pulled episode of Cinematic Titanic, since Roger Corman claimed ownership of the film (which was actually in public domain) and threatened legal action.  Fortunately the dust settled and Cinematic Titanic was allowed to keep the show in print and continue live shows of it.  Cinematic Titanic would later be forced to pull Samson and the Seven Miracles of the World, with less success of putting it back in circulation.

Though to be fair The Wasp Woman is one of the weaker riffs in Cinematic Titanic's line-up, so if a riff were to be targeted I'd have preferred it be this one (but mostly none at all).  It's not that I find it particularly poor, it's just that with a film this dry it's hard to deliver.  Though I will say that a lot of good lines have a tendency to pop out during films like this, and Cinematic Titanic delivers even if not at a high hit rate.  There are points where I can laugh at just the right jab at the right time, such as a grumpy 50's pedestrian fretting because he's missing the McCarthy Hearings.  Plus Trace has the winner of a line "Out of work and talking to bugs.  Boy have I been there!"

The host segments are okay at best.  The best is Frank bringing on yet another guest, famed drummer Buddy Rich, who proceeds to be an asshole to all of the Titans.  Mary Jo also calls a board meeting, which is simple and cute, but goes nowhere.  The intro features a tad bit of dark humor as Frank points out the tragic fate of the lead actress, though it could be argued this gets the riff off to an all-to-somber start.

Much like the movie itself, this riff is fine though something that will be glossed over in the larger scheme of film riffing.  I can recommend it on the basis that it has some good comedy interwoven into a mostly bland product, but I feel this one is a lesser offering in Cinematic Titanic's line-up.



The Wasp Woman was initially released on DVD exclusively through cinematictitanic.com, though like all of the initial discs this edition is out of print.  Picture was solid, outside of a low resolution version of the film, and audio was great.  There were no bonus features.

It was re-released by Shout Factory in their Complete Collection set.  There were also no special features, though it shares a disc with the following show, Legacy of Blood.

Let's Talk Turkey (Rifftrax Shorts)

Rifftrax Year:  2017
Riffers:  Bridget Nelson, Mary Jo Pehl

As if Rifftrax didn't have enough turkeys on the table...

Tired of that lame old Thanksgiving bird?  Well then, Let's Talk Turkey!  This short shows off various mouthwatering dishes that can be made with turkey in addition to traditionally roasted.  Lots of food on display, and for those in Home Ec classes or just wishing to learn a few new recipes in general, prepare to take notes.

"Man, turkey propaganda is boring!"

Of course it's short with a droning narrator, which makes paying attention for the full twenty minutes.  Luckily Bridget and Mary Jo are on our side to keep us awake.  They actually feel a bit more low key than their usual giggly selves, and sometimes their riffs are slight, but amusing. In some portions the duo play eager students trying to keep track of all the tips, and get frustrated with the short, which is always worth a laugh.

This is a solid short, though not quite a home run for the all-star team of Bridget and Mary Jo.  I laughed, though not as often as I do in some of their other shorts.  Still this one comes easily recommended.

Thumbs Up

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Deadly Prey (Rifftrax)

Film Year:  1987
Genre:  Action
Director:  David A. Prior
Starring:  Cameron Mitchell, Troy Donahue, Ted Prior, Suzanne Tara
Rifftrax Year:  2016
Riffers:  Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett

The Movie

Watching Deadly Prey I was reminded of a cheap low-rent Jean Claude Van Damme movie until I realized it was basically just Hard Target only done much worse.  Then I felt the need to apologize to Van Damme (just don't tell him that).  This movie sees suburban badass Mike Danton being kidnapped by a group of soldiers to be hunted and killed as a training exorcise.  Luckily Danton is a former soldier with a few Rambo type tricks up his sleeve.

One would think this type of Most Dangerous Game story would attract the attention of someone who was making hot action flicks in the 80's like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone, but Deadly Prey aims much lower than that.  It's ambitions are so low they drag through the dirt.  Instead it goes for "the important thing is that you TRIED" director/actor combo of David A. Prior and his musclebound brother Ted Prior (work in the estranged sibling Richard Prior and just maybe we'd have a real movie here).  Nothing about the movie feels as exhilarating as an action movie should.  Action sequences are basic point gun and shoot, with no flair, while the fight choreography lacks creativity.  As for onscreen charisma, Ted Prior has a Dolph Lundgren look about him, though he has none of the charm.  I guess the best way I could describe this movie is imagine a Cannon production but without the lofty production value.

But a low quality action movie is something I can live with, but Deadly Prey becomes a somewhat unpleasant and angry little movie as it approaches its conclusion.  As the bad guys become more frustrated with Prior's character, they decide to kidnap his wife and rape her...you know, because the guy wasn't pissed off enough already.  It's gratuitous and unnecessary, and I don't think the movie really understands just how horrible it's plot turn was.  We have a woman who went through something traumatic and haunting, yet when she screams "He raped me!" later on in the movie she says it with a pouty look on her face like spoiled girl who didn't get what she wanted for her birthday.  And if that wasn't enough, the movie just ends with her getting gunned down to make her husband even more unhinged.  Thanks for that movie, you're really racking up the cool points.

Though I admit for a while I at least understood what the movie wanted to be.  It's when it tries to be an edgy aggressive movie is where it becomes truly wretched.  I'm guessing the movie has something of a cult following, because somehow a sequel was made, 2013's Deadliest Prey.  I'm not sure what they see in it, unless they're big time trash lovers.  Those who want something trashy will definitely get it.

The Trax

"Wait...where are you going you idiot!  Get back up there, you're doing Special Forces wrong!"

Getting a low rent 80's action movie is a win for movie riffing from any group, and for the most part Deadly Prey leaves itself wide open.  There is so much to comment on, from the bland style of the film, to the incoherent action sequences, laughable acting, and even just the general look of everything in particular.  Deadly Prey offers itself up to Rifftrax on a silver platter.  Mike, Kevin, and Bill accept and give this goofball film a good ribbing, successfully playing up its stupidity.

Though if I were to criticize the riff in the film's most vile scenes it feels like our boys struggle to lighten the mood.  Certain scenes can be a bit of a brick wall, and Mike, Kevin, and Bill seem to be more low key in order to let them pass and get on with the more fun stupidity.  However, this isn't always the case.  As the film gets bat shit insane in it's climax they actually riff away with flair, noting the film's apparent issues with women as the female lead is mercilessly slaughtered and our seemingly insane hero closes the film out by screaming into the sky.

At times Deadly Prey has the makings of a genuinely classic riff.  Unfortunately I can't quite recommend it for everyone because sometimes the movie, as dumb as it is, is overtly harsh and uncaring about that.  The riffing for the most part strikes gold and most who watch it will definitely be howling at this one.


Tic Toc Time Clock (Rifftrax Shorts)

Rifftrax Year:  2012
Riffers:  Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett

A mad coach takes twelve children and turns them into a HUMAN CENTIPEDE...er...I mean clock.  Yeah, that's it.  He gives each one a number and makes them lay down on a device with deadly rotors and teaches them how to tell the time.  Or else their FINGERS go into the rotors!

Clocks may seem simple enough, though I remember being a kid and struggling to learn how a hand clock worked.  So to an extent a short on this subject is welcome, although I don't think it answers the questions I had way back when (it was that damn minute hand that got to me).  But it gets across the twelve numbers on a clock relating to a twenty-four hour day at the very least.  It's just VERY LOAD about it.

The short is colorful and fast paced.  There's definitely a lot to work with as far as riffing goes, with the loud broadness of it being front and center.  The thing that Mike, Kevin, and Bill can't seem to work past is the coach "sporting" motif that the short goes for, which supposedly gets children PUMPED to learn about clocks.  This just confuses our riffers, as they point out how contrasting the subject and the approach seem to be.  A child get's a wrong answer, to which Mike screams "DROP AND GIVE ME TWENTY!"

Tic Toc Time Clock is a breezy short with a lot of solidly funny riffing.  I'd highly recommend it on the basis that there is more laughs in these twelve minutes than I usually get in twelve hours.  CLOCK HUMOR!  Damn I'm good!

Thumbs Up

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhatten (iRiffs)

Film Year:  1989
Genre:  Horror
Director:  Rob Hedden
Starring:  The Big Apple...and a little bit of Vancouver...and a boat
Riffer:  EDISRAW

The Movie


An undisclosed amount of time after Jason is dragged to the bottom of the lake by the zombie father of a psychic girl (?!), he is awakened and boards a vessel taking a graduation class to New York City for a senior trip.  One by one he murders people, because that's his thing.  The survivors escape the ship and flee into the city to hide from the mass murderer.

Jason Takes Manhattan one is one of those entries in the series that is seemingly hated but I don't really have any hard feelings against.  It always seemed to me one of those so dumb it's funny kind of movies.  The logic in the Friday the 13th has always been sketchy, but this one throws it all out the window and embraces it's own stupidity.  As a result we get over the top deaths, a teleporting Jason, an inane story, and laughable special effects.  I think it's a hoot, to be honest.

It does fuck up the timeline a little bit, as the main character claims she was almost drowned by a little boy Jason that lived in the lake about ten to twelve years prior, though Jason should have been an adult around that point (not to mention that Jason living in the lake as a child is all different kinds of stupid), so this shouldn't have happened.  It's a movie without reason, seemingly throwing random ideas into the screenplay and never bothering with a second draft.  But I have no excuses or reason for this movie.  It's just a hollow thing to watch and maybe get drunk to.

It's the final film of the Friday the 13th films made by Paramount Pictures (except for the 2009 remake, which was a joint venture with New Line Cinema), who chose to let the franchise just die as the box office dwindled.  It feels like an interesting bookend to the 80's slasher craze to have 1980 start the Friday franchise and 1989 end it.  Of course New Line purchased the Jason character and gave him several more movies, but to an extent those feel a bit too separated from what Friday the 13th seemed to represent.  I don't particularly think this franchise is all that great, but these first eight movies are something of a legacy worth noting, whether you like them or not.

The Riff

And instantly every fear I have about purchasing an iRiff is realized with one purchase.  This is one of the worst riffing experiences I've ever sat through.

::rubs temples::inhales deeply and exhales::  Okay, so let's start with the technical details.  This is a very low tech riff.  It's recorded as EDISRAW is viewing the movie while he's speaking into a microphone.  You can easily tell this because the movie echos in the background.  There is also a low hum that accompanies the entire track.  It also doesn't record his voice very well, and even at full volume he is constantly being drowned out by the movie.  This is partially due to his delivery, but put a pin in this point because I will talk about it further below.  Furthermore, one can constantly hear him messing around with stuff during the riff, possibly moving his microphone, typing on a keyboard, and just rummaging around.  At one point I'm pretty sure I heard a soda can being opened, but I can't confirm that.

I could have lived with this if the sync worked at all.  First of all the riff gave me no indication as to where I should start the riff or the movie to sync them up.  After about three minutes of screwing around I think I had finally found where it matched up.  Then it drifted.  I spent another good amount of time resyncing until I reached a satisfying result.  Then it drifted again.  I synced again.  Drift.  After about twenty minutes of this I suddenly realized this riff was synced to the PAL version of the film, which was never mentioned at any point in the description.  So basically I spent three bucks on a riff that wasn't even well made and I couldn't even use in the first place!

It was easy to find feedback on Hor-RIFF-ic's iRiffs, with this one I couldn't find any feedback at all.  I felt there needed to be something said about it so people who look at it might know what they're buying if they choose to purchase this.  A "let the buyer beware" message if nothing else.  I was determined to finish this experience, at the expense of keeping my hand on the pause button of the riff.  Taking into the fact that the constant resyncing was souring my mood, I did my best to review the riff as objectively as possible.  While I liked the idea of certain jokes, a lot of them made me cringe, as well as the several poorly placed callbacks to Mystery Science Theater.  It's possible that if they were delivered better this riff might have been funnier, but there are a fair amount that just made me raise an eyebrow.  The jokes that do seem like they could have been funny wound up misfiring because the poor syncing of the movie gave them to me in the wrong places, not to mention the EDISRAW has a tendency to mumble.  When I can make out what he's saying, the tone of his voice misdelivers almost every joke he says.  To be completely honest, his voice is nasally and overly sarcastic, almost as if this riff was recorded by one of the Goth Kids from South Park.  This especially becomes a problem when he tries to deliver a line as a character, but he just sounds the same just in a higher pitch.  It's monotonous.

Comparing a Friday the 13th riff to other Friday the 13th riffs, the team at Hor-RIFF-ic Productions provided pitch perfect sync instructions as well as supplying a Rifftrax approach to keeping the audios lined up.  Now I can accept that not everyone has these capabilities, but to not even give clear indication of syncing the movie or which regional version of the movie I'm supposed to be working with pretty much makes this riff worthless.  They also give the audience a more professional delivery system and enthusiasm for what they're doing.  And the big kick to the junk is Hor-RIFF-ic's far superior products are for sale at iRiffs for $1.99 each.  This is 90 cents more for an inferior product.  I can at least appreciate that the person who made this tried, but this shouldn't have been a riff I paid for.  This should have been for free on YouTube.

Not Recommended

Snap Out of It! (Rifftrax Shorts)

Rifftrax Year:  2009
Riffers:  Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett

Snap Out of It is the powerful tale of a teenage boy who is unhappy with the grades given to him, so he pouts about it and is sent to the principal's office.  There he is told to keep his emotions in check and to shoot for goals but keep expectations realistic.

This short is a companion piece to Act Your Age to try and keep over-emotional teenagers in check and prevent them from getting pissy.  I highly doubt it worked, though it's a swell moral.  I can't complain or talk too much about this short because it's pretty self explanatory.

The riffing is fairly on target for the most part.  There are a few dry patches, though when Mike, Kevin, and Bill get a good hit on this thing you'll throw your head back and laugh.  Jokes range on the lead's whineyness, his failing grades ("I got a 'D' in Male Sexuality!"), and the overall dated presentation of the short.  Snap Out of It is a solid belly laugh short.

Thumbs Up

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (Hor-RIFF-ic Productions)

Film Year:  1985
Genre:  Horror
Director:  Danny Steinman
Starring:  Jason Voorhees ::snicker::snicker:: No seriously, he's in it.

The Movie


Truth in advertising has always been a hot topic.  Promising a "final chapter" and then blatantly ignoring that promise the following year is probably one of the more glaring examples of lying to get butts into seats, at least in the movie biz.  It helped the previous Friday the 13th sell tickets, but here we have another one, an attempt to keep that revenue coming but try and put a fresh spin on it to at least promise "a new beginning."

And by "fresh spin" I of course mean do the exact same shit all over again.

This story picks up around a decade after the previous film.  Tommy Jarvis has grown out of being Corey Feldman (good for him!) but is now being housed in a home for troubled teenagers.  One day a hockey-masked killer starts murdering everyone around him.  Has Tommy snapped or has Jason returned from the grave?

Turns out it's neither.  And legions of people in the audience simultaneously ask for their money back.

Friday the 13th:  A New Beginning is thought of being one of the lesser Friday films, with fans citing "Derz no JASON!" as being the reason why it sucks.  It doesn't suck for that reason.  It sucks because it has the Friday the 13th title.  Jason not being in it is merely incidental.  And hell, while we're at it Jason wasn't the killer in the first movie either, so it's not really a reasonable excuse anyway.

As a social experiment I almost wish I could test Friday the 13th fans who were watching this movie for the first time and stop it before the reveal of who the killer is and poll whether or not they were enjoying the movie.  My theory is that most would say "yes."  But I'm not really a Friday fan, so I have no experience in this myself.

Is there anything else in this movie that makes it distinct enough to be singled out like that?  It's a lot broader than the previous films, with sillier and more absurd stabs at comedy.  At the same time the victims of the film are mostly innocent outcasts (a good chunk of them anyway), which makes them more sympathetic than usual, so seeing them get mowed down doesn't have the same effect as teen characters defying morality.  And then there is the reveal of the killer himself, which is absurd to say the least.  The character is given a very specific reason to be angry and psychotic, but he goes after a group of innocents while the person who wronged him gets away scott free earlier in the movie.  That said, the character is someone who was introduced earlier in the movie, which makes the reveal just barely more satisfying than Mrs. Voorhees' reveal in the first film.

A New Beginning is a bad movie, but it gets too little credit in series of films that aren't really that much better.  I can't quite get into the mindset of the average Friday the 13th fan, but from an outsider's point of view I'd dare say this movie is underrated.  But then I remember that it's bloody awful regardless.

The Riff

While I personally don't believe A New Beginning to be particularly better or worse than the previous films, I will have to admit there is something about it that just clicks with the riffing format.  Maybe it's the fact that it's broader, zanier, more cartoonish.  Because of that it offers something a bit different to work with, and maybe it's the big shot in the arm that Hor-RIFF-ic Productions needs to keep doing these Friday the 13th riffs.

The movie presents itself as a cartoon, so Gary, Erin, and Satan treat it like one.  This riff pretty much takes what's happening on screen and over-emphasizes it to humorous effect.  It's an effective approach and the gang seems very enticed by a film that brings something new to the table.  They find amusement in the film's emphasized lewdness and underline it, as if saying "Really, movie?"  They take the characters' caricature personalities and enhance them, turning them into something more memorable than they are in the film itself.  This riff is seriously a blast to watch.

After watching the first four Friday films I was concerned that maybe taking on the entire series was simply too impossible a task.  Watching this fifth film I'm glad to have been proven wrong.  Friday films can feel exactly the same, but if there is something new to discover in them then maybe just maybe the right riffing team can tap an oil well.  The team behind Hor-RIFF-ic Productions taps the oil well in Friday the 13th:  A New Beginning and laughs are aplenty, bringing about the best Friday the 13th riff yet.  It makes me rub my hands in excitement for them to tackle Part VI should that day ever come.